This is a podcast about Lake Superior woodland caribou populations, especially the population collapse, after wolves crossed to the island homes of these caribou in 2014. In this podcast, Leo Lepiano of Michipicoten First Nation and Christian Schroeder and Gord Eason of Wawa, Ontario are interviewed.
Related December 17 Post: Caribou: Airlift From the Brink
Caribou to be Airlifted to the Slates
A December 11th news release from Michipicoten First Nation states that On Thursday December 7th, the Honourable Ontario Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), Kathryn McGarry announced the ministry would be acting to preserve Lake Superior caribou by moving caribou to the Slate Islands.
Wolves that crossed to the Slate Islands and Michipicoten Island during the winter of 2014 have decimated caribou populations. While wolves are still present on Michipicoten Island, it is believed that there are no longer any wolves on the Slate Islands.
Link to an April, 2014 Infosuperior photo and caption about caribou crossing from the Slate Islands to the mainland.
Further Background Information – Link to a November 30th article, “Caribou, Ice and Wolves – Death Spiral?“
Michipicoten First Nation Pushes for Action
The Minister’s decision to preserve the last caribou of Lake Superior came after extensive lobbying efforts by Michipicoten First Nation. The First Nation believes that without action, Lake Superior caribou populations will likely be extirpated this winter. In a call with Minister McGarry on December 4th, Michipicoten First Nation Chief Patricia Tangie requested the immediate translocation of caribou from Michipicoten Island to the Slate Islands, as well as to Leach and Montreal Islands. She also requested a commitment to moving caribou back to Michipicoten Island when the island is free of wolves.
In a recent media release, Michipicoten First Nation stated they believe that simply relocating caribou to the Slate Islands, where it is believed there are no wolves, is a “half-measure.” They say their request for trans-location is informed by the Precautionary Principle and that moving caribou to several islands provides greater insurance for long-term survival. Michipicoten First Nation first requested the non-lethal removal of wolves in April, 2017. According to Michipicoten First Nation, this option was ruled out in November, leaving only two alternatives:
- cull the wolves
- move the caribou.
It was deemed that the cull of the 15-20 wolves on Michipicoten Island could not be carried out by Michipicoten First Nation due to prohibitive costs and the difficulty of locating all of the wolves without access to their GPS collars, which have been regularly placed on wolves by the MNRF since 2015. The Ministry was not supportive of a cull.
The media release voices the First Nation’s concern about provincial land management and species at risk but states that Chief Tangie looks forward to continuing to work with Minister McGarry on the caribou file.
The release points out that ancestors of the citizens of Michipicoten First Nation have a long history of sustainable land management, a regime to which the First Nation aims to return. The release says Michipicoten First Nation will continue to review the MNRF’s management processes with cautious optimism.
Website – LakeSuperiorCaribou.ca
Twitter – https://twitter.com/SuperiorCaribou or @SuperiorCaribou
Flickr – Caribou Photos
Newspaper – December 10 Duluth News Tribune Article
On December 1st, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, announced that the Government of Canada will invest $44.84 million for the Great Lakes Protection Initiative, which is part of the $70.5 million of new funding allocated for freshwater protection, in Budget 2017.
Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change said, “Canada believes that sustained action on Great Lakes restoration is key to the health and economic prosperity of citizens in this important region. Working alongside American and Canadian partners, the Government of Canada will continue to promote strong action on both sides of the border—to tackle climate change and protect the shared waters of our Great Lakes.”
New programming will focus on reducing toxic and nuisance algae and strengthening the resilience of Great Lakes coastal wetlands. It will prioritize identifying at risk nearshore waters, which are those most used by Canadians for drinking and recreation. It will target reducing the release of harmful chemicals. And, it will seek to strengthen engagement with Indigenous Peoples and the public in addressing Great Lakes issues.
The Canadian government says the investment will bring about cleaner drinking water, beaches for all to enjoy and waters in which to fish and swim.
A December 1st news release from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) points out that the Great Lakes region represents the third-largest economy in the world, if measured as a country, supplying 51 million jobs or nearly 30 percent of the combined American and Canadian workforce.
The Great Lakes Protection Initiative funding builds on existing Great Lakes programming and will endeavour to further focus efforts of greatest importance including the continued implementation of the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement as well as the Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health. The ECCC news release stresses that healthier Great Lakes mean more opportunities for economic growth. The relase adds that Canada is committed to providing strong support for working collaboratively with the Government of Ontario and Indigenous Peoples for Great Lakes Protection and Restoration.
New programming will focus on reducing toxic and nuisance algae and strengthening the resilience of Great Lakes coastal wetlands. It will prioritize identification of at-risk nearshore waters, which are those most used by Canadians for drinking and recreation. Reducing in the the release of harmful chemicals is another priority. The Great Lakes Protection Initiative will also seek to strengthen engagement with Indigenous Peoples and the public in addressing Great Lakes issues.
In a related statement, Tony Maas, Manager of Strategy with Freshwater Future said, “This is a clear signal that the federal government recognizes the importance of a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem to Canada’s future. These investments will be critical to sustaining efforts to address increasingly pressing issues, from harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and invasive-species control to the cleanup of polluted areas. ”
- One out of four Canadians and one out of ten Americans drink Great Lakes water.
- The Great Lakes contain approximately one fifth of the world’s fresh water supply.
A recent CBC Radio article by Matt Prokopchuk delves into who is responsible for cleanup of a contaminated site in Thunder Bay Harbour. The article provides an overview of the “400,000 cubic metres of mercury-contaminated pulp fibre” in the harbour, then provides the views of Environment and Climate Change Canada, Transport Canada, the Thunder Bay Port Authority and the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan. The central theme of the article is the question of who will lead cleanup.
In a related 6’32” podcast, Lisa Laco of CBC, interviews Matt Prokopchuk
Wisconsin Sulfide Mining Ban Eliminated
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed the “Mining for America” bill into law on December 11th in Rhinelander. The bill eliminates the “mining moratorium” on the issuance of permits for sulfide ore mining, without changing environmental standards. In the press release issued upon signing the bill, Governor Walker points out that, “Mining is a vital piece of Wisconsin’s history and is at the core of our cultural identity. With this new bill, we’re paying tribute to our state’s rich roots in the field and creating new family-supporting careers in the mining industry, all while protecting our abundant and valuable natural resources.”
The bill lifts Wisconsin’s 20 year ban on gold and silver mining. It reverses a vote of 20 years ago to impose the ban due to serious concerns about pollution. Supporters of the bill say it will revitalize the mining sector in northern Wisconsin and provide significant contributions to the Wisconsin economy.
Related January 16th Infosuperior post: Toronto Company Completes Land Exchange to Build Minnesota Mine
American Mining Association Weighs In
In the lead up to removal of the moratorium, the American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) issued the following September 7th statement to the Wisconsin Senate:
“Wisconsin is geologically rich in important critical and strategic metals minerals such as copper, zinc and lead,” said Laura Skaer. “Mining is an important economic contributor to local communities, states and nationally. Nationwide, metal mining has a direct and indirect contribution to gross domestic product of almost $155 billion. Average wages at hard-rock mines across the country are $85,000 plus benefits. These are true generational family wage jobs, especially for rural Wisconsin.”
The Mining Moratorium is unnecessary to protect Wisconsin waters and the environment, and it certainly does not help grow the Wisconsin economy. Wisconsin’s stringent water quality standards and reclamation requirements combined with modern mining technology and practices will protect the environment.
AEMA urges Wisconsin legislators to rescind the Moratorium and allow Northern Wisconsin to benefit from its mineral wealth by passing Senate Bill 395.”
Sulfide Mining 101
Sulfide mining refers to the mining of metals found in sulfide-bearing rock. Gold, copper, zinc, nickel and other metals are typically found bonded to sulfur. Sulfuric acid is created when sulfides are released through the mining process and exposed to air and water. The resulting runoff can enter nearby streams and waterways and since it readily mixes with water, can kill fish, insects and plants. Sulfuric acid is similar in composition to battery acid.
The National Wildlife Federation claims that sulfide mining, commonly known as hard-rock mining, is single largest source of toxic waste and one of the most destructive industries in the country. The federation contends that acid mine drainage kills fish and wildlife and poses serious health risks.
Senator Tiffany: “We do Not Reduce Our Environmental Standards Here in Wisconsin in Any Way.”
Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) co-authored the Wisconsin bill along with Representative Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield). As the bill was signed into law in Rhinelander, Tiffany contended that, “Mining was a very intrusive activity and you have to have high environmental standards. And if you read this bill that the governor is signing today, we do not reduce our environmental standards here in Wisconsin in any way. If any company wants to come here to Wisconsin, they’re going to have to live with our high environmental standards and it should be no other way.”
The 1998 ban required that sulfide mining applicants prove a similar mine had operated for 10 years without causing pollution. It also required applicants to prove such a mine had not caused pollution for a ten year period after closing. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has never made a determination that these standards were met.
Assembly Bill 499 – This bill eliminates the “mining moratorium” on the issuance of permits for the mining of sulfide ore. Additionally, the Department of Natural Resources must find that the technology to be used at a proposed mine is capable of resulting in compliance with air, groundwater, surface water, and solid/hazardous waste management laws. Authored by Senator Tom Tiffany (R—Hazelhurst) and Representative Rob Hutton (R—Brookfield), the bill passed the Senate on a vote of 19-14 and was concurred in the Assembly on vote of 53-38. It is Act 134.
Near Record Levels Still Prevail
Following wet conditions in October, drier and more seasonable conditions returned in November. Nonetheless, water levels of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan-Huron remain well above average.
The monthly mean level of Lake Superior in November was 183.78 m./602.95 ft., the third highest on record (1918 – present) and the highest since November 1985. Lake Michigan-Huron’s mean November level was 176.85 m./580.21 ft., the 12th highest on record and the highest since 1997.
The Lake Superior level at the beginning of December is 29 cm./11.5 in. above average, 15 cm./6 in. above the level recorded a year ago at this time and the fifth highest on record. The level of Lake Superior is expected to continue its seasonal decline in December.
Continuing Coastal Damage
The high levels coupled with strong winds and waves have resulted in shoreline erosion and coastal damages across the upper Great Lakes system. The International Lake Superior Board of Control says that additional shoreline erosion and coastal damages may occur this fall and winter should active weather continue.
Related November 14th Infosuperior Post: “Coastal Reporting Tool Displays Storm Damage“
The International Lake Superior Board of Control, under authority of the International Joint Commission (IJC), has set the Lake Superior outflow to 2,510 cubic metres per second (m3/s)/88639.81 cubic ft per second) for the month of December, effective Dec. 4. The December outflow is 100 m3/s/3531.5 cubic ft. per second more than that prescribed by Regulation Plan 2012.
Winter Outflow To Exceed Planned Rate
In consideration of the continuing high water levels in the upper Great Lakes and to accommodate expected maintenance at the hydropower plants in 2018, the Board recently received approval from the IJC to temporarily deviate from Plan 2012 this winter to continue to reduce the potential for adverse consequences of high and fluctuating flows in the St. Marys Rapids.
Over the winter months, the Board will release slightly more flow through the control structure at the head of the St. Marys Rapids by maintaining a gate setting equivalent to one gate fully open instead of the typical winter setting equivalent to one-half gate open.
The gate setting of the control structure will be maintained at the current setting (eight gates open 26 cm each) which is equivalent to approximately one gate fully open. The gates were lowered to this setting over 28-29 November. There will be no change to the setting of Gate #1, which supplies a flow of about 15 m /s to the channel north of the Fishery Remedial Dike.
Regional Water Supply Declines
The net water supplies to Lake Superior were below average in November. The level of Lake Superior fell 9 cm.3,5 in. last month, while on average the lake declines 5 cm./1.9 ” in November.
The net water supplies to Lake Michigan-Huron were also below average in November. The level of Lake Michigan-Huron fell 6 cm./2.3 in. last month, while on average the lake declines 4 cm/1.6″ in November.
The level of Lake Michigan-Huron is 47 cm./18.5 in. above its long-term average beginning-of-December level, 26 cm./10.2 in. higher than it was a year ago and the twelfth highest on record. The level of Lake Michigan-Huron is expected to continue its seasonal decline in November.
Related November 14th Infosuperior Post: “Interactive Tour – Lake Superior Outflows“
Related November 14th Infosuperior Post re October Water Levels: “Superior Almost One Foot Above Average“